I had my first telephone conversation in Chinese tonight.
It's always been my opinion that second languages and phones don't go together. When I studied Spanish in high school and college, I never got to the point where I felt confident on the phone, in spite of being perfectly capable of a face-to-face conversation. I've also had dozens of misunderstandings with international friends over the past few years that have arisen from them having to speak their second language, English, on the phone with me.
Here's a little bit of trivia that they told us in telemarketing training: Only around 40% of our communication is conveyed through words. The rest is through facial expression, body language, and tone of voice, so you have to work doubly hard to get a point across on the phone. (Did you know I was once I telemarketer? Well, now you know.)
My phone call tonight was from the guy at the train ticket office, and it went like this:
Train guy: Wei, ni hao.
Me (in Chinese now): Sorry, I don't speak Chinese.
Train guy: A whole bunch of Chinese. Did he say something about my train ticket being ready?
Train guy: More Chinese. Too much Chinese to be agreeing with my idea that I come tomorrow.
Train guy: A little bit of Chinese. Agreement, perhaps?
Me: I come now.
Train guy: More Chinese. I caught the word "now."
Me: Good, good. Thanks, thanks!
Train guy: Zai jian.
So I grabbed my keys and tripped off to his office, where he was waiting with my train tickets to Beijing next week. It wasn't pretty, but my first phone conversation in Chinese ended in success.